He struck in two finals, made his Chelsea FC debut and was top scorer in the UEFA Youth League group stage – it has been some ride for Dominic Solanke, 17.
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The year 2014 is one Dominic Solanke will never forget. The Chelsea FC forward struck in victorious cup finals for club and country and, a month after penning his first professional contract with the team he joined aged seven, made his senior debut in a UEFA Champions League game. Capping an impressive 12 months, Solanke finished as top scorer in the UEFA Youth League group stage with a last-day hat-trick against Sporting Clube de Portugal.
FA Youth Cup glory
What would transpire to be a memorable May on and off the field for the Reading-born player – who was also studying for end-of-school exams – started with Chelsea trailing Fulham FC 3-2 from the first leg of the FA Youth Cup final.
With less than a quarter of an hour remaining of the Stamford Bridge return, the Blues were 6-4 behind on aggregate, their hopes of a third triumph in five seasons in tatters. Cue the most dramatic of finishes. After Isak Ssewankambo made it 3-3 on the night, Solanke came to the fore, deftly glancing in a cross from the left. In added time and with another 30 minutes imminent, he seized on Charlie Colkett's back-heel in the penalty area, stepped inside and fired left-footed high into the net.
Four appearances in Malta, four goals: Solanke's UEFA European Under-17 Championship campaign confirmed him as a predator extraordinaire. He began the May tournament in a marginally deeper No10 role, but was deployed as a central striker from the moment Adam Armstrong limped off in the semi-final win against Portugal. He duly put the Young Lions in front, doing likewise in the decider before England's penalty shoot-out success over the Dutch. A flick of the right boot here, a dink over the keeper there – this was a masterclass in clinical finishing. "It's amazing, every boy's dream to win a tournament with their country," Solanke, joint-top scorer at the event, told UEFA.com.
Solanke trained with the seniors during their pre-season tour of Europe, making appearances against Wolfsberger AC, NK Olimpija Ljubljana and Vitesse while still a scholar. He soon turned professional.
Solanke's form for the west Londoners' U21, UEFA Youth League and U18 sides, coupled with the absence of Diego Costa through injury, prompted José Mourinho to name him on the bench for a Premier League fixture at Crystal Palace FC on 18 October. Though an unused substitute in that 2-1 victory at Selhurst Park, Solanke did not have to wait long for his debut.
Three days later and with Chelsea four goals up in a UEFA Champions League home match against NK Maribor that they would win 6-0, Solanke realised his dream when replacing Oscar for the last 17 minutes. "I'm so over the moon to make my debut," Solanke told Chelsea TV. "I nearly made it the other day, but this was a more special at Stamford Bridge."
UEFA Youth League exploits
Solanke went into Chelsea's matchday six encounter with Sporting as one of a slew of players with four goals to his name, two adrift of the leading marksmen – he ended it as the group stage's top scorer after netting three times in a 6-0 Group G triumph. That Solanke did it in four and half games says everything about his rapacious striking qualities.
"I like to get on the ball and come deep, but I've also been working on going in behind as well to mix up my game so defenders won't know what I'm going to do. At Chelsea there are a lot of world-class players so you just have to keep working and your time will come."
Speaking to the official Chelsea website in October 2014
"For him it was a perfect situation; the legs were tired even before he came on [against Maribor], the heartbeat was there before the first run, but it's a night he will never forget. For sure, he's going to play many Champions League matches because he will be a good player."
José Mourinho, Chelsea manager